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Years ago, a seminary professor gave us a simple but profound assignment. He had us read through the whole New Testament, marking down the chief doctrines found in each paragraph. While reviewing the results, I discovered that every book of the New Testament warns the church about false teachers.
Now, after nearly three decades of ministry experience, I see the reason for this consistent, systematic warning of Scripture. As Jesus said, “Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:11). I have witnessed men arise teaching strange doctrines and confusing people. What types of teaching do they promote? That the resurrection has already taken place. That calling people to believe in Jesus is Arminianism. That wearing certain clothing makes you holy. That immorality is allowable. On and on the list could go.
Jude tells us that we are to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The word translated “contend” means “to agonize intensely.” This word is used a few verses later to describe Michael the archangel battling with Satan in a dispute. Jude is urging us to vigorously defend the teaching of the gospel from spiritual forces seeking to derail the church. In Jude, we see three primary tactics in contending for the faith.
Rejecting false teaching. Jude warned that certain people will sneak into the church in order to “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4). As church history shows, false teachers have arisen who explicitly deny basic Christian theology about Jesus’ person, such as that He is the Christ or that God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (1 John 2:22). Yet false teaching is often more subtle.
Jude warns that these false teachers can “pervert the grace of our God” by denying Jesus’ work as well (Jude 4). They twist God’s grace by encouraging a works-based righteousness or teach that grace means we do not have to obey God’s law. When these attacks occur, the church must turn to and uphold its confession of faith. Often, those who use the church’s confession to defend truth are labeled mean-spirited or narrow-minded by those who pervert grace. But the Bible says this action is contending for the faith.
Opposing abusive authority. Accompanying false teachers is the abuse of church authority. Jude says these men “reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones” (v. 8). He compares them to Cain, Balaam, and Korah, who challenged those whom the Lord had put into leadership positions (v. 11). He warns that they grumble, find fault, and speak arrogantly against the leadership of the church (v. 16). They “cause divisions” because they are “devoid of the Spirit” (v. 19).
Each time I encounter false teaching, it is accompanied by attacks on the authority of the pastor and elders. At times, resisting these attempts feels like we are being defensive. But Paul told the Ephesian elders to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock” because “fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:28–29). Enacting accountability and discipline against those who abuse authority is necessary for the sake of the sheep.
Detesting seductive immorality. Another display of false teaching is the licentious living resulting from it. Jude warns extensively about it. False teachers and those who follow them are compared to those in Sodom and Gomorrah who “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire” (v. 7). They are ones who “rushed headlong into the error of Balaam,” (v. 11; NASB) who counseled the king to send immoral women into the Israelite camp to lead them astray (Num. 25:1–2; 31:16). These teachers and their followers go after “their own ungodly lusts” (Jude 18; NASB).
Today’s church is awash in immorality. A “perverted grace” that denies God’s establishment of genders, sexual boundaries, and marital lines is no grace at all. Though the church must minister to those ensnared in these lifestyles, it must do so wisely, having “mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 23, NASB).
Standing against people in the church who teach contrary to the faith is a battle probably none of us wants to fight. Yet, this is part of our calling in the church militant.